Take your cannabis knowledge to the next level with a crash course in these odorous chemicals

click to enlarge It's terpene time!
It's terpene time!

The old standby categories of indica and sativa can only tell you so much about a strain. Astute budtenders can help shoppers find their perfect strain by going into detail about terpenes. Unfortunately for casual consumers, terpenes are much more complicated than the simple difference between indica and sativa.

Simply put, terpenes are chemical compounds found in plants that contribute to its smell and taste. There are thousands of known terpenes, about 150 of which have been identified in cannabis.

Each strain has its own unique mix of those 150 or so terpenes, and the specific balance contributes to each strain's individual effects. Some terpenes are much more common than others, however. If you're looking to learn more about terpenes and cannabis, here are three of the most common terpenes to start with.


This peppery terpene is found in cloves, rosemary, black pepper, hops and cannabis, among other plants. In some strains it can account for nearly 40 percent of the plant's essential oil content. It has also been shown to bind directly to cannabinoid receptors in our bodies, making it the first compound other than the plant's cannabinoids — THC, CBD, etc. — to do so. While other terpenes serve more of a sensory role with their aroma and flavor, caryophyllene has an active and proven role in our body, even if scientists are still not entirely sure what it's up to.

Caryophyllene is the dominant terpene in the popular strain Gorilla Glue.


Here's one where the name almost says it all. Limonene is lemony, and if you've ever had a tropical, citrusy experience with a specific strain, chances are it was loaded with limonene. As you might expect, it's the dominant terpene in citrus peels. Scientists are studying the positive effects of limonene on the immune system. In cannabis, it's often associated with anti-anxiety properties.

Limonene is the dominant terpene in the popular strain Wedding Cake.


The most common terpene of them all, in cannabis at least, is myrcene. Research from cannabis website Leafly showed that myrcene was the most dominant terpene in more than 40 percent of strains available commercially. It's thought to contribute to a strain's calming effects. Other plants containing relatively high levels of myrcene have a long history as sleep aids in folk medicine. It is also found in high concentrations in lemongrass, bay leaves and hops.

Myrcene is the dominant terpene in the popular strain OG Kush. ♦